Monday, May 24, 2010

Concept and Plan for the PLR

A funny thing happened on the airplane from Tampa last week. I needed something else to do as we sat patiently with our fellow passengers enroute back to Phoenix. Given my limited access to entertainment or reading, I needed paper and pen to jot down our new mental plan for the Ponderosa Lines. I enjoy the creativity of designing railroads, and putting one outside in the elements is the ultimate challenge (well, sort of). In need of something to write on, I turned desperately to the overused seat pocket in front of me with the ubiquitous Sky Mall (or equivalent) airline magazine. Digging down a bit more, I pulled out the expected barf bag, and turned it into a draft map of the PLR. I have only ever seen one of these things used for its intended purpose, and that was a nearby passenger on the rocky Phoenix-Flagstaff commuter jump in an overheated prop plane last year. She had eaten a half-pound burger that.... never mind. So after drafting a basic plan for the rail route, I turned to Linda for inspiration about landscaping ideas. She added a few features, such as potential railroad ties (real ones), planter boxes, and pathways. The product was a "napkin version" of the Ponderosa Lines, which I strangely saved, scanned, and am now sharing here.

More professionally, I used the AnyRail planning software I purchased online to create a more professional version of the current version of the future PLR. This is the tenth map, sort of like Boeing or Microsoft that come up with numerous versions before they roll out the successful one. Although the town and place names may change with time, this is the current plan.

The concept is similar to that of the past, though with some variations. The Ponderosa Lines are still designed as a regional tourist line that uses an imaginary old right of way through northern Arizona. Thus, the Lines are intent on acquiring a variety of narrow-gauge rolling stock and motive power either donated or sold from existing railways throughout the nation.

The layout is a "point-to-point" design with a continuous loop option, so that we can run trains in veritable circles if desired, or enjoy more prototypical operating sessions with crews, train orders, and so forth. This latter concept would involve a train leaving House Rock southbound (right side of map), and passing through the towns of Viterbo, Blumenthal, Snow Flake, Needles, Twin Pines, and reaching the "end" of the line at Paradise. Essentially, then, we can say this is "The Road to Paradise," to borrow a similar title from the Strasburg Railroad back in Pennsylvania. Town names are subject to change as Linda and I modify the plan. For now, however, these are all meaningful names that do not try to replicate actual places in northern Arizona (the exception is the town of Snow Flake, which is an actual small town in eastern Arizona. I am adding it here because it would be in the coldest, snowiest part of our yard, near the annual north-side glacier). (Click on maps for larger images.)

Some Parameters (especially for G-scale fans)

The minimum radius on this plan is 2.5 feet (5-foot diameter) for the reverse loop at House Rock (which can serve both ends of the line with as few turnouts as possible). The rest of the railroad uses either 10-foot or 11.5-foot diameter curves. Future sidings or spurs will be added as funds and time allow, such as at House Rock, Paradise, and Blumenthal. So, here is the Ponderosa Lines as it exists on paper. The rest of the summer will determine how much of it is actually built after the filling and grading are taken care of. For now, it's great exercise moving dirt around.

The track is (based on what I've already purchased) a combination of used and new LGB and Aristocraft track, mostly with European ties, but some American because that's what I could get. After weeks of investigating possible road bed approaches, I have chosen to "float" the track on a bed of "quarter-minus" crushed granite, or whatever is available locally here in Flagstaff. Given our 7,000-foot elevation, this is an extreme freeze-thaw region, on a daily as well as annual basis. Thus, the track will need to expand and contract with rapid warming and cooling. This aspect will be somewhat of an experiment, and I'll be curious about the maintenance involved.

After learning all about the issue of scale within "G-scale," I am salivating over the 1:20.3 opportunities in the future and am keeping this in the back of my mind as we plan the railroad (i.e. curve diameters and bridge clearances). More immediately, however, I have acquired some pieces of LGB and Bachmann trains that will serve well on the PLR to get things started. Although I'm not a serious modeler when it comes to detail and prototypical accuracy (I prefer a representative approach, I guess), I can certainly see the noticable difference between the 1:20.3 and smaller scale equipment. So, I'm content for now with the "meter gauge" scale, and LGB and Bachmann are interchangable and look good together. For now, I'm looking forward to building an actual railroad, albeit a bit too small to ride on (probably a good thing for the neighbors, who will nonetheless get used to future train whistles of Forneys and Baldwins. I need something to drown out those barking dogs..."Scottie, set whistle on Stun!).

Monday, May 10, 2010

First Test Run on a Grade

I have been laboring off and on for the past several weeks, including through a sudden snow squall, to "cut and fill" various parts of our side yard for the right-of-way. Having finally determined the final plan for "Phase 1" construction, there is one rather steep grade on a curve that I have been wary about. I lessened the grade by building a small dirt ramp (I will add photos eventually), and I have read plenty of horror stories about steep grades and G-scale. The two don't mix, apparently, unless you want to run very short trains. So today it was time to put my two locos to the test. I laid some track temporarily on the dirt right-of-way and smoothed it out enough to get a train over it. I really have no place convenient yet to store my rolling stock and locos, so I make numerous trips upstairs to retrieve a few cars, both locos, batteries, and remote controller before the fun can begin. Linda has convinced me to purchase a Rubbermaid shed for the side yard eventually, which after today is looking much more inviting.

First the yard switcher, #3. First two cars, then three. No problem, this little engine certainly "could" and "did," taking the hill without a concern. Thinking the Baldwin steamer would do similarly, it was time to "pour on the coal". I started with all three cars (a boxcar and two D&RG coaches) and it made it half way up the hill before the drive wheels started spinning (reminded me of certain Amtrak trips). The engine's a bit light and could -- after a few tries -- only take the hill with a running start. Looks like I have some work to do with grade reduction before laying track. Fortunately the latest plan will allow for a longer ramp leading out of the staging area. And the writing may be on the wall: It may be worth the money to hire Barry from Barry's Big Trains (how many sleepless nights were required to invent that business name, I wonder...) in Phoenix to retrofit some "bionic" motor and wheels to the Baldwin. Apparently the thing will pull out stumps after Barry gets done with it. At least now I know what my little engines can and can't do. Funny thing, though, it was the little LGB switcher that won the veritable pulling contest up to Twin Pines today.